A Possible Improvement in Measuring Glucose Levels

Researchers have developed a new glucose measuring material that could eventually eliminate current measurement instruments such as test strips.

The material changes colors as glucose levels fluctuate, providing a much more precise readings than are now available. “There are significant limitations to current continuous glucose monitoring technologies,” said study leader Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois. “The systems available today all have some combination of limited sensitivity [and] limited precision.”

The device, a sensor, is made of hydrogel, a soft jelly-like material, which is laced with boronic acid compounds. Boronic acid binds to glucose, causing the gel to swell and expand as the glucose level rises. As the hydrogel expands, the reflected color shifts from blue to green to red.

The color-changing material is simple and inexpensive to manufacture. In fact, Braun says, a square inch of hydrogel could be enough for up to 25 patients.

The researchers envision the hydrogel as part of a system or device that taps into the bloodstream – an insulin pump, for example. But they are also enthusiastic about the possibility of it being used in short-term, continuous monitoring – for example, when people are in intensive-care units.